Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Journey Continues

The bright mountain sun was quickly warming the summer air as I walked toward the large, covered porch where we would eat a family reunion breakfast. As I neared the structure, I looked over and noticed two small figures emerge from the old house.

The woman, not as spry as she once was, held firmly to her husband's hand. His other hand clutched the cane which helped stabilize him on the side opposite his wife.

I came up beside them and talked as we took short, careful steps together. I was grateful for these moments, knowing that the day will come when these people I love won't be there.

The woman, nearing her fourth score, grew up on this land. She remembers well the work of her parents who homesteaded here in 1930s. The original house they lived in burned to the ground just a few days before her 81-year-old dad died. The house from which they just emerged was built at the same location a short time later. Both of them helped with construction, as did their kids, her siblings, other family members, close friends, and one of her nephews.

I know.

I was that nephew.

I hope you have enjoyed this small snippet from my observations of the lives of my Aunt Betty and Uncle Glenn. Perhaps, as I have hoped, I have begun to do something I hope others will continue -- memorialize them while they are alive to hear our words of appreciation.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Truth Will Set You Free

I concluded yesterday's chapter about my Uncle Glenn with a comment about something he learned. He learned it about himself. It changed him more than he could imagine.

Driven. If you had used that word to describe my uncle back about 40 years ago, it would have been understatement. He worked. When he came home from his job, he worked more. Life for him seemed to consist of endless hours doing back-breaking labor.

When he wasn't actually working, he seemed uptight. Unhappy. Even angry.

Then the day came when he learned the truth. His body was being ravaged by diabetes. He was ill well past any point of experiencing something that felt "normal."

I know that the early days after his diagnosis included the cycle of denial, illness, acknowledgement, treatment, then more denial. Gradually, he came to accept the responsibility that he must permanently change his diet and take his meds so that he could live a healthy life.

It was several years into his "new normal" that I got to know him again. Previously, I had known him as a kid relating to an adult. But when I was in my mid-twenties, my cousin Gary asked me to perform what would be my first wedding as a pastor. That experience showed me a whole new side of Uncle Glenn. Instead of anger, I got to see his humor. Instead of drivenness, I saw him relax with his family. In short, I began to see his heart.

Over the years, it was my privilege to perform weddings for two more Aunt Betty and Uncle Glenn's children. I have been a part of dozens of family celebrations, reunions, get-togethers, and funerals. Each time, I have noticed that Uncle Glenn is a very special man.

Now I get to see his loyalty, his appreciation of others, his faithfulness to my aunt, his love of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Now I get to know some of the life story of a man whose family has endured significant hardship and lived to tell about it.

I get to spend time with a man who got set free by the truth.

The truth in a blood test.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Hard Workin' Man

I started this week by telling you how focused I was marking miles on life's highway. So focused in fact that I was missing much of the beauty of the journey. I then proceeded to tell you about some members of my family who have proven to be great treasures in my life.

Yes, my Aunt Betty can bake homemade rolls that still make my nostrils come to attention. And I can remember them -- graphically -- from over 40 years ago. But Aunt Betty is just one half of the "dynamic duo" that makes up their marriage -- a marriage now over 60 years old. (I think it's gonna last!)

My Uncle Glenn has become one of those rare gems of a family member. He was like buried treasure that is hidden deep within a mountain. You see, when we were kids, Uncle Glenn was about one thing: hard work. Looking back, I'm not sure that he knew any other way to live. He and Aunt Betty had the images of the depression seared on their childhood memories.

They knew what it was to live (yes, dwell or abide -- you pick the word) in tents. They knew was it was to work with adults who were trying to carve an existence out of the hard earth with nothing but their bare hands, some primitive tools and wills of iron.

Uncle Glenn took that ethic and started providing for his family, which quickly included five children. He didn't have much education, but he knew how to work and he worked. Long hours. Countless days. Trying to rub two nickels together to feed his family and put a roof over their heads.

Most of those years he was a mechanic. He could work on just about anything, but somehow he ended up in a tractor dealer. Small in stature, he knew how to wrestle that heavy equipment into shape.

My early impression of him was one of not seeing him much, then not understanding why he was strict to the point of anger when he was around. It took a while, but he learned something about himself that helped change that...

...but that's tomorrow's chapter.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It Smells Like Heaven

It's my senior year in high school. I take advantage of some of my flex time and walk into the cafeteria. It's about 10:30 in the morning and the first lunch hour doesn't begin for an hour. The tables are empty. The sounds of clattering utensils are coming from the kitchen.

And then, I'm captured! The invisible tentacles crawl under the doorway from the kitchen and rush across the floor to climb up my legs, then around my mid-section and -- ultimately - into my head. The aroma almost takes my breath away, even though it is the same one I smell every day at school.

The source? Some of the best homemade dinner rolls you ever tasted. The cook? My Aunt Betty!

Every day for years, Aunt Betty arrived at work before daylight to lead her small team of cooks in our high school cafeteria. Her fresh rolls were legend!

And, every once in a while, she would slip me one before lunch hour.

Shhhh! Don't tell a soul!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Little Lady With The Big Heart

As I mentioned yesterday, I have often made the mistake of counting life's mileposts when I could have been savoring the scenery. As I have grown a bit older, one of life's high points I discovered I was missing was my dad's younger sister. Aunt Betty and Uncle Glenn (more on him later) have proven to be one of the great joys of my journey.

Growing up in Socorro, New Mexico had its challenges. But for my aunt and uncle, it didn't begin to touch the hardships their parents had faced before them. Aunt Betty was the youngest of four Norris siblings, with three older brothers. To understand her, you need to understand something about her family growing up.

The oldest boy, Granville (we called him "Granny") was an adult when Betty was born. The second boy, Rex (we called him "Yogi"), was pretty much grown, too. My dad, Jimmie, was eight when Betty came along.

Now, let me turn the story upside-down. I performed Granny's first wedding (to his childhood sweetheart) when he was 83. Rex was married for a short time when he was quite middle-aged. Then, after being single for some years, he remarried and became a dad for the first time at age 60. They had another one after that!

My dad was 28 when I (their oldest) was born. And then there was the "baby" -- Aunt Betty.

Aunt Betty had her first when she was 16, was a grandmother in her mid-thirties and a great-grandmother in her early fifties. She grew up really fast!

To say the least, Aunt Betty knew how to take on responsibility. I watched her raise her five kids, three of whom are older than me. I watched her care for her aging parents.

And, after Grandma and Grandpa died, I watched her look after her three older brothers. Faithfully.

The reality of it became very personal when she and Uncle Glenn started providing every sort of help to my mom when my dad became very ill with cancer. At times they would drive to my parents' home -- just ten miles away -- and stay overnight to help wherever needed.

Aunt Betty never slowed down long enough to think about her own needs. She just served. And served. And served. All the while, she bore the impending death of her only surviving brother with dignity.

But I can't tell the story about Aunt Betty without telling you something that still brings me a smile every time I remember.


Monday, August 3, 2009

High Points On The Journey


The exact place that word modifies has changed for me over the years. Though worn, "Home is where the heart is" is perhaps as apt a phrase as has been written on the subject. For me, "home" was the tiny map point of Socorro, New Mexico during my childhood and young adult years. In fact, it was home in my heart for all the early years of my marriage.

The location of "home" to me changed over twenty years ago and it's now a desert place. But today I want to tell you a story about going back to that boyhood home.

The closet and fastest route to my New Mexico hometown has often been U.S. Highway 60, which travels through the mountains of East Central Arizona and crosses the Continental Divide at the place where my parents met. It's a "wide spot in the road" named Pie Town, New Mexico.

I still love that old highway, with it's sparse population and often beautiful views of high mountains and vast plains. When I was was younger, though, I was attracted to a feature that helped me keep accurate track of just how far I was from "home."

You see, every mile of that road is marked by a "mile marker." It's a simple, green rectangular sign with the mile number clearly shown in white reflective paint. As you cross the state line, traveling east into New Mexico, the state border is clearly marked with "0". The next mile is "1" and so on.

Why is this important to me? It's simple. I knew that when I reached mile marker "138", I would be entering my home town.

So, I have a confession to make.

For a long, long time, I paid little attention to the beauty around me because I was busy counting mile markers. Oh, what I was missing!

I'm older now. My life is still fast-paced and I'm used to an environment with lots of things going on at once. But I try to avoid living to simply count the miles as they go by. I don't want to miss the high points on the journey.

Like the ones I will introduce to you tomorrow.

You just thought that this was a highway story.